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Can You Keep Groups Together

author
Maria Garcia
• Sunday, 11 October, 2020
• 7 min read

Although I'm primarily asking about caving, this is a problem that exists in any activity that moves through the landscape: walking, cycling, kayak touring, etc. A natural tendency when on the move is for the fastest members of the group to end up at the front and for the slowest to trail behind, and eventually lose sight of those in front.

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Contents

This will naturally constrain the group to the speed of the slowest member, and ensure that no-one gets left behind. As a “group member”, you'll need to (temporarily) step up to a “leadership” role to instruct your peers in this rule before you start.

This can be reinforced by periodically asking the person behind you to report the status of everybody further back. As an aside, this technique also works well for road vehicles travelling together, when traffic lights or other obstacles can affect part of the group.

I've led quite a few groups through one of the biggest caves in Canada, and I've received leadership training from the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides through the Alpine Club of Canada. Keeping your group together starts with establishing leadership.

Whenever I'm leading on a hike or in a cave, I always ensure that I'm out front, and check my shoulder occasionally to make sure the whole group is keeping up. This helps you set a pace that the whole group can keep.

With large groups it's helpful to have a second leader who takes up the rear, then toucan know that the whole group is with you when toucan see that person, otherwise, headcounts are helpful. I guided a group of 17 kayaks on a river this summer, and headcounts helped me out a lot.

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There were a couple of times doing my count I came up one person short, and discovered the leader taking up the rear had unknowingly passed a boy at a fork in the river, and got ahead of him before the confluence. The boy kept falling behind because he was cold, so I ended up towing him for the rest of the trip.

It's also helpful to establish periodic check points; predetermined places where everyone regroups. In the cave I guide most frequently there are multiple rappels along the way, so it's easy to establish checkpoints because everyone has to wait at the top of the rappel for their turn on the rope, and we don't proceed until the last person is at the bottom of it.

Even with checkpoints though, sometimes it's prudent to stop the group impromptu when the leader notices people are falling behind, and continue on again when everyone regroups. It's like herding cats if you've got people up front that don't take direction from anyone, so make sure you establish leadership and protocols at the beginning of the trip.

Mind, that in different terrain and weather conditions you could allow different 'safe' distances between the front and the rear group members. The simple solution is to put the slowest person in the front of the group.

It encourages the slowest person to speed up, as being in front causes pressure to go faster. At the same time, a little spreading out is not a bad thing, because it allows the group to see who is the slowest and who might need extra help.

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There was a trip that I was one where because the leaders were so careful to keep everyone together that it wasn't till much later that we realized how out of shape certain members were. Everyone tends to shrug and agree, and then that breaks down the momentary hesitation to say anything when the group is starting to split up.

Once that understanding is in place toucan employ whatever tactic you want (putting one of the more capable team members in the “sweep” position at the end of the group, with the explicit agreement that they are empowered to set the group’s pace based on what they observe, seems to work well). The concept is simple it’s the social aspect of execution at the moment (telling an older / more experienced / more grouchy person what to do) which causes hesitation so this upfront agreement really helps.

In the rollerblading groups (50+ people) I've been in Florida and NYC they have a sweep at the back whose job it is to make sure the slowest person is always with the group. Everyone goes as fast as they like, but the leaders have a pre-planned route and take breaks at designated rest stops and wait for all group members to arrive (the sweep).

I would recommend rest stops at pretty areas, or where paths diverge, or places with seating or water. Toucan use walkie-talkies for group leaders to keep in touch.

We had this as a constant issue when I worked in a school with a strong outdoor program. Someone breaks a pin holding their pack strap on, they stop or slow down.

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In the school I was at, our rule was generally 1:5 for anything overnight, 1:8 for day trips. That said: A senior student who had been there at least two years was counted as 'half a leader' Ones who passed our qualifications tests, and were approved by the staff council were counted as a full leader.

We knew these kids quite well) Adult staff were not considered leaders in any program during their first year. (This came up on a trip where one other staff and me had a group of 10 grade ten boys.

Send two kids out for help (15 miles to the trailhead, 30 more to pavement.)) If all leaders have a set of maps, agree on rendezvous points if there is a separation.

Individual behind the slow person encourages and gives tips. This is a responsible (and strong) individual who is last, and makes sure that people don't evaporate off the back end of the line.

When I ran trips about once an hour I would work my up to the front of the line, then drift back chatting for a bit with each person and looking at them to see how miserable or happy they were. Since it's a lot easier to go back than go forward my favorite position was to be where I could just see the first person.

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Note: The traditional pea whistle will freeze in cold weather with the pee (usually a cork ball) sticking at a point where in makes little more than a whimper. No one went ahead of the lead, further from shore than point, or fell behind sweep.

A large river, one with sight lines of half a mile or more, were treated like lakes. Small rivers where 50 yard visibility was common were much harder.

A group generally traveled in yelling distance, although everyone had a whistle to get attention. It also meant that there was someone at the bottom of the rapid to collect the garage sale if someone dumped.

Have a set of high visibility flags -- say 1×2 feet that you could hang on shore. The sweep would give a running commentary, and suggest alternatives.

If the terrain was rough, mushers would have to park a sled and help the guy in front or behind get up the hill/over the creek bank, around the dead fall. On occasion, breakers would have to come back and help the sleds.

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Everyone stays together in this virtual no-drop ride regardless of power output. You ’ll be able to draft and move around in the group without fear of being dropped unless you stop pedaling.

We kept them on flat ground in order to answer the main question in our minds: how fast will the group travel? We were hoping Swift had kept speeds more realistic for the Meetup option.

When the Meetup begins, a message indicates “Grouping Enabled. Trying to sprint and break up the group didn’t work, either.

Compare these speeds to a simple test we ran outside the meetup: So Meetup riders are actually faster with the Keep Everyone Together option, at least in our simple tests.

We did note one small glitch in our test Meetup: the distance meter at the top-middle kept flashing in and out. Note: Swift slowed these meetup speeds in a subsequent update, so the numbers above no longer apply.

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So the feature works, even if speeds are a bit wonky. It’s a simple, seamless way to make this happen, and a perfect example of how indoor riding can actually improve upon the outdoor experience.

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